Under the Radar: Brooke Annibale

Pittsburgh singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale has a confession to make.

“I’m pretty bad at explaining my songs,” she says with a chuckle. “That’s why I write them—because it’s an easier form of communication for me.”

The longer you speak with Annibale, the more you start to understand how something as simple as the frequent extended pauses that populate our discussion are directly related to the incredible results you hear on her stellar fourth album, Silence Worth Breaking. The fact that she overanalyzes her words before speaking says as much about the fact that she wants to communicate plainly and clearly with her audience as it does to the fact that every last word, every last detail, matters to her. So when she sings about stumbling over her words in an effort to get it right in “Tryin’,” while at the same time barely speaking above a whisper rather than singing confidently as another artist might choose to do, you know she is considering all angles of the situation instead of just the obvious ones. She wants to include as many elements, emotions and sounds as she can in her music—hence the splendid, varied forays into folk, acoustic, rock, pop and Americana that appear on her record—so it comes as no surprise, then, that she takes this same approach to people and religion, as she demonstrates with her song “I Believe.”

“I wrote that song out of … sort of a frustration with the lack of all-inclusiveness in religion in general and how people have been hurt by that,” she says. “And it’s not just in religion. It’s in people’s families and friends, and really this epidemic of bullying that’s happening is just really hurtful to people. I wrote that song to help bring some sort of hope and light to this situation, so that eventually truth and love will win out.”

Whether it’s a song born out of the sorts of frustration she mentions, or getting a Kickstarter.com campaign started to help bring Silence Worth Breaking to life, Annibale knows the importance of including others in things—be it in life, music, relationships or religion—and she is more than eager to champion the value of friendship. After all, one of her friends at Belmont University essentially (and unwittingly) acted as the initial spark that led to Silence Worth Breaking being created last fall.

“I studied at Belmont University in Nashville,” she says, “and one of my friends I graduated with started working at a studio down there a couple years ago with Paul [Moak, from Smoakstack Studios, who produced this record], and he was like: ‘You gotta work with this guy. He’s great.’ So in September I went and visited the studio, and it was just the best one I’ve come across. All the instruments you could want to experiment with were set up and ready to go, and everything was in the studio to work with already. It was like a dream come true.”

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After Annibale started sharing demos with Moak, the dream really came true and the work began, and the fruit that was borne from these labors is nothing short of astounding. The 10 tracks which make up Silence Worth Breaking are loaded with combustible passion, unadulterated joy, abject sorrow, genuine humility and surprising boldness all at once. The songs are done in a stunning, hypnotic fashion, encompassing several different genres in masterful ways. And the fact that this is all coming from a 23-year-old is even more astounding given the wisdom that bleeds from every corner of this record. And when you take a minute to think about just how wrong this album could have gone with a title like this—one that in lesser hands could have easily been viewed as self-righteous and self-serving, to say the least—the achievement is all the more mind-boggling. Annibale herself wasn’t even sure it was the right choice for a title at first, but Moak stepped in and assured her otherwise.

“There was one song I made that didn’t make the cut of the record that was called ‘Silence Worth Breaking,’ and when I shared that title with Paul he was like, ‘O, that sounds great!’ But I was like, ‘Wait, doesn’t that sound a little pretentious?’ And he said: ‘No, no. It makes me want to listen to it and see what it’s about. That title intrigues me.’”

Silence Worth Breaking is filled with a number of exquisite moments, surprising choices and the sort of gravitas that other singer-songwriters hope to realize in their works, but often never do. Whether singing dreamily on the undeniable “Under Streetlights,” channeling John Mayer and Colbie Caillat on “Yours and Mine”—a duet which features Tyler Burkum—or confidently handling a bluesy rock number  (“Bullseye”) Annibale’s calculated efforts to communicate with the listener never miss their mark. The album is one of the strongest releases of 2011 so far, and now that it has been released (March 15), Annibale is excited to see what the future holds for her and this record.

“It’s been a few years since I released my last record (2008’s The In Between) and I am very excited to have this new thing to represent myself,” she laughs. “A lot of people have written back to me and said ‘This is my favorite song,’ or ‘This is great! Great job! I’m glad I was able to be part for the process,’ because, you know, they all helped fund it through Kickstarter. It just feels really good to get positive feedback from people who are genuinely excited about listening to it because this is something I am hoping to do for the rest of my life, and it’s a good start to have people excited about it.”

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